Sporting Kansas City look like their old selves in win at New York

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An early set piece and then stifling defense? That’s page one of Sporting Kansas City’s playbook, a plan that’s consistently brought success under Peter Vermes. Tonight in New York, we got to see that plan in action again, with an early goal from Aurelien Collin holding up for Sporting’s 1-0 win over the Red Bulls.

The win vaulted Kansas City to the top of the East for the first time this season, their 14 points now one better than Montréal. New York stays in fifth with eight points in as many games.

Collin, as he’s apt to do once or twice a month, had a night where he looked like the league’s best defender. In the 13th minute, he beat Jamison Olave to a near-post corner from Graham Zusi to put KC up 1-0, giving an early lead to the one team you don’t want finding the first goal. At the end of the field, he relished what turned into a small battle between himself and fellow Frenchman Thierry Henry. With Henry’s tendency to go left, Collin was always going to be challenged more than Matt Besler, and he stepped up: eight interceptions; eight clearances; six headers won; four tackles; two blocked shots. With help from the rest of the defense, Collin limited Henry to one 16th minute shot on goal.

Higher up the pitch, things were even more encouraging for Sporting. They looked like the same feisty, intent team that pestered teams into submission last year, when Roger Espinoza was patrolling midfield. Vermes may not have fully replaced the Honduran international, but if keeps getting efforts like tonight’s (when Sporting pestered New York relentlessly before taking their lead), Kansas City won’t take the big step back some were expecting when they lost the new Latic.

Eventually New York raised their level of play and were able to keep the ball for prolonged periods of time (attempting 431 passes on the night), but held at arms length by timely KC challenges, the Red Bulls only put three shots on goal. That’s less a reflection of their lack of quality than Kansas City’s stalwart defending. Against most of the league, New York would have probably broken through, but against an in-form Sporting, even energetic forays from Henry and Fabian Espinola couldn’t threaten Jimmy Nielsen. At no point did it seem like Kansas City would give up their lead.

At halftime Mike Petke expressed disappointed with this team’s performance, and given his team didn’t a result at home, the Red Bulls’ boss is bound to see tonight as a failure. But Wednesday’s outcome may have been more about what Sporting did right than what New York did wrong. Anytime you give Kansas City the first goal, you’re in for a long night, not matter how well you play going forward.

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

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The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

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The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

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The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

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On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.